During the past years, the tasks and responsibilities of work councils have become very complex. In a global world, industries and companies are under pressure to adapt to highly competitive markets, outsourcing strategies, technological change, etc. This leads to a process of constant restructuring and rationalisation to reduce costs. Not only company management but also employee representatives have to deal with a rapidly changing work environment. The growing heterogeneity of staff and their diverse interests, working conditions, needs and socio-economic backgrounds present another challenge to work councils, whereby the growing segment of precarious work additionally contributes to high levels of diversification. This makes it particularly difficult to reach consensus among an increasingly diverse workforce and develop a clear line of argumentation.
Upholding and enforcing good working conditions and securing employment certainly require control mechanisms. However, equally important is the commitment to shape work and decision making processes and to take responsibility for developing the organisation further. While in a period of crisis management and human resource departments rather are concerned with short-term cost saving measures, it is the work councils’ and unions’ part to develop creative and balanced solutions for all.
The IG Metall (Trade Union for Metalworkers) represents a good practice example of innovative initiatives such as “Besser statt billiger” and alliances for innovation (“Innovationsbündnisse”). The focus here lies on the early detection of company crises and assessing the possible consequences for the employees. The initiatives furthermore foster a culture of innovation and participation at the company level. Realising such an approach, however, is neither a simple nor an unambiguous process, but often puts employee representatives in an uncomfortable situation.
Growing complexity of the work councils’ tasks require that employee representatives dispose of profound knowledge as concerns labour law, economic developments, business administration, the industrial relations system, health and safety regulations and so on. Familiarity with issues like demographic developments, sustainability, the quality of work and the continuing professional development of staff is equally important as are soft skills, including being able to provide guidance, moderation and conflict resolution. This requires well developed social competence and the engagement of the entire personality.
Based on participants’ organisational experience, the course supports the development of technical, methodological and social competence. It offers guidance and coaching for work council representatives’ professional development and facilitates a reflection on own role performance. It also fosters the mutual exchange of experience across company borders.
The course objective is to promote and support junior employee representatives who are expected to take a leading or exposed position in representative bodies in the future. It is therefore an admission requirement that participants are being sent by their representative body.